Latest courthouse design has less height, more public space


County officials unveiled their latest design for a new Circuit Courthouse in Annapolis yesterday, incorporating design changes, including additional public space and lower building height, from the city's Historic District Commission.

The courthouse project will come before the commission, which reviews projects in the city's Historic District, on Monday night for final design approval.

The plans for the courthouse, which include renovation of the original 1824 court building, received preliminary approval from the commission in June, but with several conditions. Members of the commission, in addition to several other interested county residents, have met regularly with architect Howard I. Melton to come up with a revised plan.

A major change from the previous court plan was the elimination of a polygonal pavilion connecting the historic court building with the new addition. Members of the historic district commission "hated it," said Rodell Phaire, assistant chief engineer for the county's Department of Public Works.

Instead, there is a simple glass hallway connecting the two buildings.

A second change made by architects involved constructing the exterior walls of the building, with parts jutting out and others set back, so they mimic the townhouse feel of the buildings across from the new structure.

Finally, at the building's highest point, a planned lantern was eliminated and glass skylights were dropped a story, to reduce its height.

At its highest point, the courthouse structure rises about 80 feet. But it will be built in a terraced fashion, so that from street level, a pedestrian only sees a 1-story or 1 1/2 -story building. As the courthouse building rises, it sets back further from the edge.

Originally, county officials estimated the courthouse would cost $43 million, but that did not include the cost of renovating the 1824 courthouse, a project the county intended to start after the new structure was completed. Now, the historic courthouse will act as the public entrance to the new complex and is an integral part of the whole, so it must be restored as construction proceeds on the new complex.

"It's going to be a fairly extensive effort to restore a building of that age," Mr. Phaire said. He estimated including the courthouse renovation would increase the total cost "by several million dollars."

Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's director of central services, said Monday night's meeting is the first of three hurdles confronting the project. In the spring, county officials will ask for enough money to proceed with the first phase of the project: demolition of a building that now houses the state's attorney and construction of a building with 17 courtrooms, along with planning money for the historic courthouse restoration.

That budget request will probably be significantly more than the $20.3 million officials estimated last year they would need in the 1995 fiscal year.

County officials expect to begin demolition of the state's attorney's building next August. While the wing housing the courtrooms is being built, all court functions will be shifted to the courthouse annex, a building built in 1952 next to the historic courthouse.

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